SEO costs: an eternal headache.
If you are a small business in the digital marketplace, you’ve probably struggled with getting affordable SEO. Search results are heavily cluttered with ads and other features, and competition is increasing. The time needed to get results has increased dramatically.
It can sometimes seem impossible to achieve visibility affordably. And that’s even before we get to the extortionate costs and dubious skillsets of many “We are the best” SEO agencies.
But effective and affordable SEO isn’t just a daydream. With a little bit of effort and knowledge, you can perform some basic tasks in-house and make your marketing workflow more efficient. You can then hire an SEO or more specialised marketing agency to do the things for your business which you don’t have time to manage or oversee.
“So, stupid question. What exactly is SEO?”
It’s not stupid; many people are unclear on what SEO is.
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the skill of making websites more visible on internet search engines, primarily Google. The website design and speed, content quality, and the number of links to the site all contribute to this visibility. SEO specialists spend the majority of their time tweaking websites and engaging in link building; to drive as much relevant traffic to their client’s sites as possible.
In the past, SEO used to be a disreputable profession with sometimes dodgy techniques; Link buying, blog farms, “link poisoning” competitors, and other “Black-Hat SEO” practices.
Over the last decade this has changed. A rise in industry standards and training, pushing “White-Hat” SEO practices, has helped create a more mature and affordable SEO industry. Google has played a large role in this by heavily penalising sites that use unethical tricks to gain visibility.
Making An Affordable Yet Incredible SEO Strategy
SEO costs money, just like any other type of advertising. The difference between SEO and other fields of marketing is that that money isn’t directly spent on leads, but on the amount of time taken to do specific tasks.
Some aspects of SEO, especially on the technical side, are difficult to do without coding skills or an extensive experience with how Google works. Learning these techniques takes time, and implementing these can take even longer.
In addition to time, tools such as Rank Trackers and Link Trackers are essential to do high-end affordable SEO, and these don’t come cheap. Most of them come to $400 AUD a month or more.
Finally, outreach costs money. Even if you do this entirely in-house, it can be time-consuming. If you want to cut corners, test Google’s wrath and buy cheap links, you can find yourself under ranking penalties fast.
SEO Agency vs In-house work: Which costs less?
“Should we hire an SEO agency or look to in house marketing?” This is a dilemma most businesses face. We understand it’s not an easy choice, but there is a way to figure out the best plan of action.
Going solo might seem like a cheap and easily implementable choice, especially if you already have skills or resources in the area. But time constraints often stop owners or senior marketers from accomplishing this.
The issue with hiring an in-house expert is that most Digital Marketing specialists are experts in one or two areas of Digital Marketing. If you hire a SEO expert, prepare to make sacrifices in Paid Search, Social, and other channels. A Social Media Specialist, by contrast, might know the latest Social Media trends but have little expertise in PPC or SEO. Additionally, SEO experts are often focused on Technical SEO, Link Building, or Content. Few are experts in all three. You need to make sure you hire according to your SEO goals and objectives.
You can solve the specialisation problem by hiring a full team of specialists (not cheap!) or by hiring a senior marketer who can act as a generalist in every field. These don’t come cheap either, many are would-be heads of digital or Chief Marketing Officers at small or medium agencies, and can command salaries of up to $160,000AUD.
The other (more affordable) option which most companies decide to go with is to hire one person to do marketing strategy. While this person might have broad capabilities to look after some aspects, they hire external agencies and freelancers to take over the more technical aspects of SEO, PPC and Social Media.
Let’s assume you decide to get SEO work done, either on your own or with some agency support. Let’s look at the four parts of SEO you can do yourself.
There are mainly four major parts to SEO –
- Technical and site architecture
- This refers to making your site readable for users, crawlable for search engines, and ensuring your site is structured into related topics that users can easily navigate between topics.
- Analytics and tracking
- Setting up and implementing Google Analytics, Search Console, and other analytics tools to ensure tracking.
- On-Page and Content
- This is making sure you have optimised your site with amazing content which viewers love to click on or interact with, and that outshines your competitors’ content.
- Link Building and Outreach
- This is the hardest bit; getting other sites to link to your amazing content is hard. Here at HESK Digital, we’ve developed some outreach tricks over the years to ensure significant link building for your site.
Mastering these SEO basics can take years, but this setup can be done by anyone who has the ability to set up a standard website.
Basic SEO Tools and How To Use Them
We’ll need a few free tools to get things working correctly. We’ve included links on how to set up and use each one. None of these require money to use, and all are relatively easy to install.
- Google Search Console
This is the heart of your SEO efforts. By installing this, you can exactly see what Google sees. With a quick addition of a small .txt file to your server (ask your web developer to follow this Search Console guide if you aren’t confident with this).
While using this tool, you can look for things like manual actions (When Google punishes you for violating guidelines by reducing your rankings), how visible your pages are and what’s wrong with them, and what issues you need to resolve. It also shows you what people are searching for when they come to your site, an important tool for working out what type of content you should be putting out.
- Google Keyword Planner/ Google Trends
If you already have a Google Ads Campaign Account, you’ll have access to this powerful tool for working out what keywords are driving the most traffic in your industry, and by extension which ones you should be targeting. Even if you don’t have an account spending money, you can sign up to Google Ads and use this tool in a more limited form. Find out how to use Google Keyword Planner for SEO here.
This is a super powerful tool that lets you see exactly how people interact with your website, from where they come from, to what pages they view, to how they convert to sales. Setting it up can be a little difficult, but working out how to use it to track how your organic traffic is growing and how your landing pages are performing is invaluable. We have a short guide here.
Yoast is a free WordPress plugin you can use to ensure your site’s content is SEO optimised quickly and easily. There is also a more robust paid version available. While Yoast is a WordPress plugin, other CMS platforms have different plugins which help with SEO.
- Google My Business
This platform is the hub of “Local SEO”. If you want to interact with clients or customers in the real world, this is essential; especially if you have a brick and mortar store or retail outlets. My Business lets you validate your location so you can appear in map listings and boost your location based search rankings. It also allows you to add your business niche, photos, and contact data to your site. It even opens up access to Google Reviews, which has slowly become an essential trust metric for many users.
- Moz Toolbar
This tool lets you see a number of relevant things, most notably Page and Domain authority. These are approximations of how authoritative and trustworthy Google labels a page or domain. These metrics are based on the number and quality of links that you have to your website. The Moz Toolbar is an incredibly useful tool for comparing your website to other websites that are ranking for your focus keywords. It lets you see how far you need to go in your link building efforts before your (hopefully) superior on-page efforts will start to help you outrank your competitors.
Other tools such as Ahrefs or SEM Rush can also be useful, however their expense means that smaller businesses often cannot justify the cost.
Making Your Website SEO friendly
The first thing you need to do to rank on Google is to make your site crawlable and fast. If you’ve set up your site yourself, this will be easy, but if not, you might want your Web Developer to go through the details. Correctly setting this up can take some time, and a more comprehensive guide can be useful. However, some tips don’t take a lot of skill and pay dividends down the line for your affordable SEO.
- Plan out your website, siloing keywords into groups of related terms, products, or services. The highest traffic organic keywords should take the position of main category pages, with secondary terms being relegated further down, and blog posts being used for long-tail terms.
- Https instead of Http: make sure your licenses are up to date because Google naturally ranks Https sites higher than Http sites.
- Most pages should be accessible within three clicks from the homepage.
- A blog should be set up, with categories focusing on the category page terms.
- Send XML sitemaps to Google Search Console; this will significantly aid the crawlability of your website.
- Contact Data should be clearly placed in the footer, especially if you have local searches or are planning to use Google Shopping Ads.
- Set up and verify your location in Google MyBusiness; this will ensure you are visible for local searches such as “coffee near me”.
- Keep your third party cookies and analytics program tags organised via a program like Google Tag Manager. You can also troubleshoot your tags and make sure they are working using Google Tag Assistant.
- Keep images reasonably sized, and make sure text loads before the images.
- Make sure your URLs match your key search terms; this is one of the most important relevance signals that Google uses.
- NoIndex and NoFollow are your friends. NoIndex is a command in the header of the page that tells Google not to show this page on its results. Perfect for payment portals and legal pages. NoFollow tells Google not to distribute domain authority from that page or link.
- Canonicity: Using Can tags enables Google to see which of a variety of similar pages is the one you want to show to people, making sure that your most relevant pages are the ones Google is ranking.
Pro-level Keyword Research can take years to understand properly. But you can save a lot of time and give your agency or team a head start by using Keyword Planner or another tool to search the most relevant keywords.
Start by brainstorming a few keywords based on your services, location, and market niche. The Keyword Planner will show you current monthly search volume, and suggest new terms. Google Search Console is also a great way to find the terms that you already rank for. By gathering these terms, focusing your site on them you can clarify not just how to plan out your site structure, but how to structure your content, and how well you’re ranking compared to your competitors.
Keep Your Content Optimised and Affordable
Content is often the most time-consuming part of on-page SEO. Even large agencies can often find they have too few copywriters for the content they need to produce.
Copywriting takes time, and well researched, SEO-optimised, engaging copy that people love to read takes even longer to write. It’s another one of those situations where the time it takes for you to accomplish these things internally may cost a lot more than farming it out to either a Marketing or Content Agency. More on that soon.
But let’s assume you already have a site up with some decent content that people are looking for. You need to make sure that this content gets in front of people.
Tags and Headings
The first thing you can do is review your content and make sure it all has Title Tags and Meta Descriptions.
Google isn’t guaranteed to use these, but title tags have a small SEO value. A well-formed Meta description can significantly improve click-through rates for your results, which is a key ranking metric on Google.
The next big thing is the Heading Tag. After the URL, Google says this is the biggest determiner of page relevance. Make sure you have one heading, preferably the first one, labelled with the <h1> tag, and make sure it has your target keyword in it; to show Google what the primary purpose of this page is.
Making sure your main content is optimised and is a straightforward read for the visitor. You can do this by making sure that what you are saying is relevant to the primary target keyword, and closely related terms are sprinkled through your content. This would help make it more natural and organic when read by a human or a machine crawler.
Here are a few other tips:
- Make sure you link to the main category page (or if it’s a category page, you link it to secondary pages).
- Add one or more external links (links to another site) are often recommended.
- Images (not too big) are great, but use unique ones when possible, and make sure the image titles and alt tags reflect the image content.
The Blog is where you write about your long-tail terms, and answer common questions or interesting topics that might drive users to grow an interest in your blog or website. The main thing to remember with branded blogs is consistency; keeping your blog up to date with content is the most important thing to keep growing. The more new content you have, the more chances you have for Google to crawl your site.
You should be updating your blog a minimum of twice a month. But more often is better.
Additionally, the interlinking mentioned above is even more important for blog posts, interlink between posts and target categories for better SEO results.
We’re not going to lie, getting links is hard, you can also say super hard if you are a small business. There is no shortcut to this issue.
At HESK Digital, we find link outreach quite time-consuming and a difficult task on our daily to-do lists. Unfortunately, it’s the primary determinant of page authority, and some agencies say it contains as much as Eighty Percent of overall ranking value. Getting high-value links is essential.
While paid links can seem tempting, and paid guest posts can help rankings significantly, we must point out that paying for links is strongly against Google’s guidelines. While guest posting or properly inserted links are hard for google to detect, they could de-rank you at any time if they decide you’re using a large number of these links. Additionally, most paid link providers have only low-quality links available, and these links will likely have no relevance to your industry.
If you are looking for affordable SEO, you’re going to be looking at a more organic outreach.
More valuable are backlinks from clients, related websites, or friends. Make sure these links are embedded in content relative to you wherever possible, isolated footer links won’t get you anywhere.
Guest posting is an excellent idea for affordable SEO link building. Finding local directories focused on your market niche such as fashion directories, food directories, etc. also help in getting links to your site. Trade Magazines, Blogs, and News Sites are often desperate for content and are happy to give you a follow link. Sites like Ditto HARO, or Help-a-Reporter-Out usually have journalists looking for insights into your industry and are happy to share backlinks for the data you provide.
Finally, if you’re writing amazing blog content, reaching out to other sites for links to it is an excellent way of obtaining additional links. Infographics and long-form content are great ways to do this.
Overall, Link Building is one of the main reasons people choose to engage in an agency.
Choosing an SEO Agency
So you’ve set up everything above, your affordable SEO efforts are beginning to see results, but you want the extra push the professionals can provide. Or perhaps you don’t have time and just want to offload one or more of the most time-consuming parts to save yourself time and money.
Well, firstly, great choice! A well-managed agency collaboration is probably the best value proposition to drive traffic and grow your online presence. At HESK Digital, we measure our success through the increase in the conversion rates and online visibility of our clients.
That said, there are many pitfalls in selecting an agency and signing a contract. There are a lot of dodgy agencies out there, and even some good agencies might want you to pay just a bit more than you might need. You may find that their specialities don’t quite match up with what your business objectives and requirements are.
So how do you choose the right agency for you?
Work out where you need skills, and then find an agency that matches them. Hopefully, the above sections have given you a brief insight into the areas of SEO you need specific help. Reviews, word of mouth, and the agency’s own website can show you precisely what their specialisation is, and if their team can help you achieve your business goals.
Types of Agency
When sitting down for a meeting, you should ask the agency what their primary focus is, and how they divide their resources.
Some types of agency you’ll encounter include –
- SEM Agencies: These agencies specialise in paid search, and focus on SEO only as a secondary source. Unless you’re looking at Paid Search as a way of getting immediate traffic, you should avoid these agencies when looking to engage in SEO services.
- Social Agencies: These agencies focus on either paid or organic Social, and are often not particularly good at SEO; you should probably look elsewhere unless Social is the centre of your marketing strategy.
- SEO Agencies: If your primary goal is SEO, an SEO specialist agency is ideal. Many agencies focus on at least two of the below, except for link building.
- Content SEO Agencies: These agencies focus on writing large sections of on-page content. Great if your internal copywriting resources are overloaded with word counts.
- Technical SEO Agencies: These agencies will often combine their work with web development, but concentrate on getting your site to optimum health and making sure everything is structured well. They are great for short term contract, but their work might be limited.
- Link Building Agencies: Link building is the hardest part of SEO, and if you’ve already got amazing and optimised content and a healthy site, then specialised link building might be an option for you. Many of these companies do only link building and nothing else. But beware, as they often work from the same lists of sites, and some cheaper options can be damaging to your site.
- Content SEO Agencies: These agencies focus on writing large sections of on-page content. Great if your internal copywriting resources are overloaded with word counts.
- Local SEO Agencies: Few agencies focus entirely on local SEO, but there are a few, especially those focusing on trades, real estate, or other highly localised industries. If you’re one of these, you might want to consider such an agency.
- Generalist Agencies: These are the most common agencies to engage. They often have a strength in one or more area but offer all the SEO services and probably SEM and Social as well. Beware though, these agencies often farm out link building or copywriting services to another agency, so hiring two or more agencies can sometimes be cheaper than just a generalist agency. A good generalist agency, however, will use economies of scale to reduce costs to you and keep your SEO affordable.
- UX/UI Agencies: These agencies focus on optimising your site. Obviously useful, but usually after SEO optimisation is mature in terms of content and keyword planning.
- Branding and Creative Agencies: The traditional, old school ad agencies or design agencies are often very large and highly experienced in design. But they usually do not have digital extensions such as SEO or PPC teams.
Affordable SEO. Not Cheap SEO.
Yes, there is a difference.
You might ask, “Why not go overseas or to a freelancer to obtain affordable SEO?”. Many overseas agencies are both cheap and competent, and some freelancers are experienced professionals looking for a bit more freedom. But if you’re looking for a cheap agency to cut costs, you are most likely be disappointed. You might be able to save money on wages, but many of the costs of SEO are tool hire, link building and outreach costs, and making sure content is written by fluent English writers. Outsourcing to another country might seem like a cheaper option; in the long run, you’ll end up spending more on copyediting, re-writing and proofreading to make your content better. The benefits of having an entirely Australian based agency (like us at HESK Digital) are clarity, shared market knowledge, and authenticity.
Don’t try to cut costs with a dodgy, unvetted agency, in Australia or overseas. Cheap SEO will get you dangerous paid links, bad content, and ultimately volatile and unsustainable rankings which might get you penalised by Google.
What to look for?
- Writers who are fluent in the language they’re writing in.
- Link building based on organic outreach and long term growth.
- Technical SEO that focuses on clearly laid out site architecture.
- Payment plans that clearly lay out the work done, including audits, meetings, and reporting.
- Short agency contracts lasting 3 to 6 months.
What to avoid?
- Extremely cheap rates that seem too good to be true.
- Guaranteed rankings, especially if not combined with traffic.
- Focus on long-tail keywords with no traffic.
- Paying for links for link building efforts.
- Long agency contracts lasting 18 months or more.
- Lack of a focus on high-quality on-page content in favour of technical SEO and basic work on Title/Meta tags.
What to pay for Affordable SEO?
Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? For Affordable SEO in Sydney, you aren’t going to get a decent deal for under $1000 a month, and you should be shooting for at least $1500. Anything less and the number of links, the website work, or the content quality is going to slip. You might be able to hire some whiz-kid in Prague who writes great copy, knows all the CMSs and can play the Google algorithm like a fiddle. But if you do find someone like that, ask yourself why they’re cutting their rates so much. It’s likely they’re outsourcing at least part of the job. Have a look at our article about SEO Costs for more information.
Here at HESK Digital, we seek to provide Affordable SEO solutions and industry Gold standard work.
Contact us today for a quick, no-obligation chat and let us show you how to make your website shine the brightest in the Google universe.